The Bugs Around Us

Know-Vember: Bacteria

Do we know bacteria?

A decade or two ago, this was almost certainly a NO, as in we know nothing about it in the grand scheme. We knew bacteria were everywhere and outnumbered us thousands to one but other than being able to eliminate them from killing us on a regular basis, we didn’t know very much. When it came to their relationship to our health we knew hardly anything.

It’s been long postulated that they have a unique place in our lives and health but until recently we weren’t able to study and figure out much due to the complexity and sheer numbers of their existence. Hippocrates said all disease begins in the gut but we didn’t have the means to validate that scientifically until just recently.

The last few years we have moved into overdrive and have gathered so much information and research that we have effectively moved into the know category, meaning we know a decent amount about them but realize we have a LONG WAY to go to get to really KNOW what they are doing in terms of our health and relationship to them.

What’s up with the gut microbiome?

One of the biggest breakthroughs we have made is the realization of how much the ecosystem inside our digestive tract appears to impact our health. What we know is fairly limited but every day we have been expanding our understanding of how marvelously complex and dynamic the gut microbiome is. Trillions of bacteria live in harmony with us, adaptating to what we do and eat and in turn contributing to our function and behavior.

Unfortunately, due to the remarkable progress we have made there is a considerable amount of desire to act as if we kNOw. When we are bombarded by commercials about yogurt and probiotics and new medicines you can guarantee that we moved into the realm of thinking we know more than we actually do.

Bacteria lives on us, not in us

One of the few things we really KNOW about bacteria is that they live outside our body. Not just the bacteria on our skin, hands, feet and eyelids, but also the bacteria that we consider to be inside the body, as in the gut micobiome. Structurally speaking, the digestive tract is a tube that runs from our mouth to the rear exit and it’s main job is to separate “our body” from “not our body” when it comes to letting things inside to be absorbed and assimilated into our cells. So all the bacteria that appear to be “inside us” are actually in a tunnel that allows access only to approved substances. So bacteria are not technically part of our body, they simply live on the outside surface and interact with molecules and substances on and around our barrier walls.

When all goes well they have a great life hanging out in the tube feeding off fiber and other byproducts and help us with many metabolic and immune functions in the process. Everybody benefits when both parties know their role and stick to it. It becomes a problem when bacteria actually gets into the body, which is where it doesn’t belong and subsequently get a lot of attention for crashing the party.

How and why do they get in? That’s still very much a work in progress although when you hear the term “leaky gut” or see a study on intestinal permeability that’s what people are trying to figure out. There is a lot of research going into this right now but it’s still not fully understood by any means. The good news is that of all the bacteria problems being worked on right now this one is probably closest to us really KNOWing what’s going on and helping people who have problems related to it, such as allergies, asthma and autoimmune disorders.

So, What Do You Need to Know About Bacteria?

We now pretty much KNOW that understanding bacteria is a key to health. Unfortunately we know very little about how it actually impacts health, particularly on an individual basis, although in the excitement of what we have discovered we have fallen prey to thinking we kNOw more than we do. If there’s anything we do really KNOW about bacteria, it’s that there’s very little we know for sure and there’s a huge iceberg under the tip that we’ve only just discovered, which means there’s a lot left to learn, which is both exciting and cautionary.

This bacteria/gut/microbiome thing is going to be changing all the time and don’t be surprised if things flip flop back and forth and swing wildly from side to side, changing and adapting on a regular basis. This area is so dynamic that it’s going to be a while before we KNOW all about the bacteria of our lives.

There’s going to be some huge breakthroughs in the not too distant future but since there’s so much to explore, learn and rethink, have A LOT of patience over the next several years as a lot of this stuff gets figured out and/or claimed to be kNOwn.

We will get there but it’s going to probably bug you how long it takes to get it right!

**Update: check out the two articles that popped up for me the morning after posting this:

Bacteria Link to Alzheimer’s
Bacterial Fats & Heart Disease

Thanks for reading, have a great day!

P.S. Here’s some of what I’ve written before about bacteria…


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